Guide to Scrum boards: The what, why, and how
When you hear the word board, you might get flashbacks to sitting behind a desk and listening to your least favorite teacher drone on and on.
Not to worry, class isn’t in session. There’s no quiz coming at the end of this article.
Scrum boards are an artifact (tool) that helps Scrum teams manage their Sprints and collaborate better.
If you’re new to Scrum, that may not make a lot of sense to you. Don’t worry, we’ll explain it more in-depth below.
In this article, we’ll cover what a Scrum board is, how it’s different from a Kanban board, the easiest way to create one, and how your Scrum team can use it to work better.
What is a Scrum board?
A Scrum board is a physical or digital board used to help manage processes and information for a Scrum team. Scrum boards are most often used to manage a Sprint backlog (your list of work to complete during a Sprint), but can also be used to plan Sprints, manage the high-level scope, and more.
Essentially, a Scrum board is just another tool to help you manage and run your projects. Like dashboards, reports, and timeline views, it provides you with a way of seeing what’s going on and keeping on top of it. The difference is, the Scrum board is specifically designed to help you tackle Scrum projects.
88% of companies are in some stage of embracing the Agile methodology, and 78% use the Scrum framework to implement it — So a board specifically designed to support Scrum comes in handy.
In Scrum, you divide your larger development team into smaller Scrum teams of 3-9 people.
A Scrum team is self-sufficient, with all the skills needed to complete their project requirements. They divide larger projects into shorter, more manageable Sprints, typically lasting 1-4 weeks.
Scrum boards aren’t in the original Scrum Guide, but they’ve become a popular Scrum tool. They help companies implement Agile, and allow teams to visualize the status of their Sprint at any moment.
In a nutshell, a Scrum board can:
- Visually organize a Sprint backlog and the individual user stories (features or functionality from a user’s perspective).
- (In a digital version) assign ownership of user stories and workflows to team members.
- Give everyone context so they can identify potential bottlenecks in the process.
Here’s our take on the Scrum board:
Our internal teams create a new table for each new iteration or Sprint during the Sprint planning meeting.
Rather than a Kanban-style board, we use a table layout with clear Sprint dates and work estimates.
What is the difference between a Scrum and Kanban board?
Kanban started as a project management method at Toyota working with a whiteboard. The Kanban board divides workflows into discrete sections, such as: to do, in progress, testing, and done.
The main purpose of a Kanban board is to manage the volume of work flowing through each stage.
Depending on how your team implements the Scrum methodology, a Scrum task board may be visually very similar to a Kanban board.
But there are some key differences between them:
81% of Agile companies use both Scrum and Kanban together.
This means that they might manage certain areas of a project with Kanban (such as defect resolution), while individual teams use Scrum Sprints to create product increments.
8% of Agile teams use a combination of the two called Scrumban — a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban that aims to combine the advantages of both tools.
For instance, a Scrumban team might use a product backlog to track and prioritize work. But then, rather than implementing Sprints, they’ll use a Kanban board with set WIP limits to organize workflows.
To learn more about this approach, check out our beginner’s guide to Scrumban.
How to use a Scrum board
There are two types of Scrum boards, physical and digital. In an age where 43% of employees work remotely at least some of the time, a physical board may not be a good idea.
Not to mention, an online board has many unique benefits. You can assign ownership with notifications, attach files, add digital comments to collaborate, and much more.
Here, we’ll focus on how to use a digital Scrum board for Sprints, but keep in mind you can also use a digital or physical Scrum board to plan other Agile project management workflows.
Adopt a template
Grab one of our templates to design your first Scrum board. It’ll save you a huge amount of time and eliminate all those questions about what should and shouldn’t be included.
Plus, with a template each team, Sprint, and project will have a similar layout so everyone is using your Scrum boards the same way.
Create your task board as a team
Meet with your Scrum team, including the product owner to populate your template with the tasks, user stories, features, or requirements you need to track.
Work together to flesh out each candidate product backlog item, create logical work items, and estimate how long each project and activity should take.
Creating a board and assigning ownership is not the product owner’s job.
All members should collaborate to flesh out user stories into tangible work items and assign different steps of the workflow to team members with relevant skills.
With a virtual Scrum board, you can also set up notifications if a work item falls behind schedule.
Deadlines vs. story points
At monday.com we like to work with story points rather than hard deadlines within an active Sprint.A story point (SP) is a flexible measure of how much time and effort a user story will take to implement. For our internal teams, we define one SP as a full workday.
We only schedule 8 SP during a 2-week Sprint to give our teams time to handle anything unforeseen that comes up.
How many columns should a Scrum board have?
Some Scrum boards are laid out with a column for each workday or each workflow stage (similar to a Kanban-view). But at monday.com we do things differently.
Our Scrum process includes up to 10 different stages which means it’s pretty overwhelming laid out in columns like a Kanban board view.
Plus, we don’t like setting deadlines within our Sprints so team members can freely juggle work as needed, within the two-week window.
So, we use a table view (like in the image below) with a separate row for each activity and columns for status, person assigned, priority, and estimated time.
Using our Scrum Sprint Planning template you can also add other columns as needed.
The dependency column is a great feature if you have tasks that affect each other (i.e., one has to be completed before the next one starts.)
This is something Kanban boards lack — They’re designed to assume all tasks are stand-alone and unrelated.
How do you stop your Scrum board from getting overwhelming?
If it’s focused on a Sprint, your Scrum board will reflect how ambitious your iteration is.
The average length of a Sprint is 2.4 weeks, while Scrum projects tend to last an average of 11.6 weeks. Don’t try to tackle everything in your first Sprint.
Also, using an online Scrum board isn’t an excuse to clutter it with work unrelated to your Sprint or team.
Use separate boards for separate parts of the project so people can focus on what’s important to them.
- Don’t become too ambitious when planning your Sprints. We leave two full workdays open when planning.
- You don’t want tasks that are too long (4 days+) or too short (1–2 hours).
- Only import relevant user stories from your main product backlog. (No need to include potential work items or undefined requirements; focus on the Sprint goal.)
- Don’t include too much text/information on cards — link to or attach a doc.
An online Scrum board is a great addition to any Scrum team and process. Just don’t mix it up with Kanban and start adding unnecessary items to it.
Done right, it can be the perfect addition for managing rapidly changing projects.
If you’re getting ready to plan an upcoming Sprint, try our free Scrum board template!